Monday, February 28, 2011

The "F" word

OK, it's probably not the one you're thinking of. The one I'm thinking of is "FREE." Do you write for free?

Why is writing so undervalued? Is it a supply and demand issue? Too many writers, an endless supply of cool stuff to write about? Maybe that’s part of it. Or a business model that places a premium on advertising, and fills in the empty space around the ads with, oh yeah, information.

Early in my career, I did freelance work for a local publication and earned $25 per article. I would usually do two or three articles a week, normally covering evening school board or city council meetings after working a full-time day job.

Since I had Saturday deadlines, every Friday night, usually while watching “Miami Vice,” on the little TV in the bedroom, I would put my notes and my portable Smith-Corona typewriter on a card table and write until I was finished. On Saturday, I would turn in my articles and get my check from the previous week. Some checks were for $50, and some for $75. I would take those checks to the grocery store and buy my groceries for the week.

A couple of years ago I asked someone what that same publication paid for freelance articles. The answer was “$25.” I was surprised, to say the least. I think both Sonny Crockett and I can attest to the fact that $25 went a lot further then than it does today. I question why writers are making less, when everything else in the world costs more.

I don’t understand why it happened, but the business model for most information comes from an inexpensive distribution of information that sold advertising to cover costs. So the advertising covers the cost of the information, which in turn, can devalue the information.

As writers, we need to value our work. If we don’t value it, then who will?

Monday, February 21, 2011

What I would do if I were Oprah

If I were Oprah, I would buy Borders (but change it to "bOrders") and then I would save the Admiral from the scrap heap and combine the two. The world's first (maybe?) floating bookstore!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Competition is good, and change isn't easy

I’m sure most of you know Borders is closing many stores, including the one by my house. I had noticed that the stock seemed to be dwindling during the past year, and was hoping that Christmas sales would put them back on track.

When I typed that first line, I accidentally typed “stories” instead of “stores.” Talk about a Freudian slip, because that’s what it feels like. Our stories will be limited. Where will we get our stories? How will we survive? I love Borders, along with all the other bookstores I frequent. What will happen to books? Are they on their way to becoming obsolete? I don’t think so.

Television didn’t kill the movies, albums and CDs didn’t kill radio, the internet didn’t kill newspapers (although that struggle continues) and electronic readers haven’t killed books made from paper. Maybe they will, eventually.

Do you think bookstores will go the way of full-service gas stations? Will we tell our children and grandchildren about bookstores that will seem as foreign to them as rationing food did to us when we heard stories about WWII from our parents and grandparents?

Maybe bookstores will take the movie rental route and there will be kiosks at fast food restaurants and grocery stores. I admit, it just won’t be the same. I loved going to Blockbuster, and I loved going to Borders. (The Blockbuster by my house is now an AT&T Store and a Jimmy Johns.)

But has the closing of my local Blockbuster limited my access to movies? No. Can you say “Netflix?” I get movies delivered to my house, and am able to access them online. Only the technology has changed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not made of stone. I will definitely miss being able to sit and read in Borders, surrounded by others who love books as much as I do.

But it’s not about the medium. It’s about the information. Where will we get our information? Maybe in 10 or 20 years we won’t even use computers. Maybe a new technology is being developed right now that will make the PC and Mac obsolete. It doesn’t matter where we get our information, as long as we are able to get it. I’m glad we live in a society where most people have access to the variety of ideas offered in books and magazines. We just may have to access those ideas somewhere we can’t even conceive of right now.

Obviously, the book industry has changed. If everyone felt the way I do, then Borders wouldn’t close. But be honest. How many books have you ordered from vs. going to the Borders, or Barnes & Noble, or your local independent bookstore and buying it there?

Competition is good. Change isn’t always easy. I don’t know when it will close, but the Borders by my house will be missed. Let’s look to the future and ask ourselves, what’s next?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bookmarks, revisited

I got a few great responses from my last blog post about bookmarks. It’s amazing how much writers have in common.

I mentioned in my response to Becky Povich’s (Becky comment from Feb. 11 that I had used junk mail as a bookmark and written notes to myself on the back regarding beautiful phrases or language that I discovered, or just words that I wanted to look up for meaning.

I wanted to share something I saw today in the latest issue of Writer’s Digest (March/April 2011). The “Top Shelf” column features literary items, and one happens to be a bookmark. A company called Levenger, with a tagline “Tools for the serious reader” is selling a leather bookmark with replacement note cards so writers can annotate while preserving the pages of the book. They also sell plain bookmarks that can double as grocery list pads.

Maybe someone read my blog and took note (or notes). Hey, it could happen.

Talk to you later,


Friday, February 11, 2011


QUESTION: What do a Poke’mon sticker, a subscription card to National Geographic, a piece of yarn, and a dollar bill all have in common?

ANSWER: I have used all of these items as bookmarks.

It’s true. The funny thing is, I don’t remember ever using a bookmark as a bookmark. I have a few bookmarks in my pencil holder on my desk, but I never seem to use them in the way there were intended.

This realization came to me a couple of weeks ago, and I happened to read Linda O’Connell’s blog that featured a wonderful story titled "A Present from the Past" from Tuesday, Feb. 8 about finding an Selective Service card in an old book. Linda called the phone number listed at the bottom, got in touch with the person’s granddaughter, and was able to return the Selective Service card to the rightful owner (or granddaughter of the rightful owner).

The story struck a chord with me on a couple of levels. Not only did she return a forgotten treasure left in a book, but the card was lost because someone had used it as a bookmark. So here are my questions: Have you ever found anything interesting in an old book? Do you check your books before you return them to the library or donate them? What have you used as a bookmark?

I bet the library has some interesting stories!

Let me know about your experiences, and I’ll talk to you later.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Can't see the forest for the trees


Is it too late in the year to talk about goals? I should have written about this topic in January, when everyone takes the opportunity to leave the old bad habits from the previous year, and take only those characteristics that will serve us well in the next.

OK, I’m not the greatest goal setter in the world. Let me amend that. I am a good goal setter, but not a good goal accomplisher. I would like to blame it on kids, or my job, or something else upon which I have no control, but I can’t. I’m easily distracted. There’s just so much going on in the world that it’s hard to stay focused.

I do keep lists to keep track of what I need to accomplish, but I don’t consider “Review Chapter 3 Power Point slides, drop my Netflix DVD into the mail and pay the mortgage” worthy goals.

To me, goals imply something significant – maybe even noble. Building houses for Habitat for Humanity, mission trips to the Appalachian Mountains to build accessibility ramps for wheelchairs, and learning Latin all seem like worthy goals.

I am the opposite of a woman I worked with named JoBeth. JoBeth was so efficient that not only did she accomplish her goals, she then Tweeted them, filled out a form and filed them under the letter “G.” For many years, I wanted to be like JoBeth. Then I spent some time with her and changed my mind. She is focused, yes, but sometimes that focus was so narrow that she missed everything else, including the big picture. She scheduled every minute of every day with no room left for anything fun that might pop up.

I am all about the impromptu cup of coffee with a friend, or taking a new path when I walk the dog just because I’ve never gone that way before. It’s good to have goals, but it’s also good to have kids who know you will play a game with them. Don’t let your goals get in the way of enjoying your life.

My friend Yvonne told me her five year plan went out the window 10 years ago. That’s the kind of goal strategy that I can relate to. Maybe I’ll call her to see if she wants to go get a cup of coffee.

Talk to you soon,


Thursday, February 3, 2011

A couple of contests from The Write Helper

Haven't posted contests before, but these are a couple that will appeal to many writers. The odds are good, the fees are low, and the time is short (one week, so hurry!)

Entries must be original and unpublished. Good luck!

Winter Flash Fiction Contest: Short fiction, open theme (no porn or gore) 500 words or fewer. Free critique upon request. Enter online or by mail. Fee: $7 per entry or 3 for $20 (limit 3 entries). Prizes: First - $100, second - $50, and third - $25. Winning entry posted, winner profiled on website. Deadline: postmarked Feb. 10. Info at:

Dead of Winter Nonfiction Contest: Memoir, essays, articles, prose. Must be nonfiction of 2,500 words or fewer. Free critique upon request. Enter online or by mail. Fee: $10 per entry, limit 3 entries. Prizes: First - $150, second - $75, and third - $50. Winning entry posted, winner profiled on website. Deadline: postmarked Feb. 10. Info at:

Talk to you soon,


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The work of art

“Art is anything you can get away with."

Andy Warhol

Where does art come from? Art comes from ideas, emotions and experiences. Is writing art? I believe it is. Writing is also a craft with rules, and a creative process that can't be duplicated from one writer to the next.

One of the interesting aspects of art and writing is that sometimes the work happens when you aren’t focusing on it. Sometimes it happens when we open our minds to the world and other forms of art. When was the last time you visited a museum, went to a concert, or made something with your hands? Someone else’s creative work can help expand your own creativity.

Art isn’t limited to a man-made objects. Nature is art. Lately, I’ve been walking with my husband and dog in a nearby park. I find interesting patterns across the fields where the black stalks of dormant plants rise from the snow. I love the beauty I find in the silent winter.

Take a walk, go for a drive. Spend time with your writing, but don’t forget to spend time with the world. Artists can’t spin ideas into stories without doing the work. But sometimes the work doesn’t look anything like work. Sometimes it looks like walking the dog.

Talk to you soon,